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Report Card: Ja Morant aces his Rockets test

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The star rookie of the Memphis Grizzlies can ball.

Houston Rockets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Memphis Grizzlies lost to the Houston Rockets 107-100 on Monday night, as they were supposed to. The team competed well for much of the game, but was not able to hang for the full 48 minutes of the contest, as expected. Without Jaren Jackson Jr. (and to a lesser extent Grayson Allen) due to injury, the team lacked the offensive punch and defensive impact to beat a team contending for a top seed in the loaded Western Conference despite them missing one of their superstars, Russell Westbrook.

No. Surprises. Here.

Most fans accept that nights like last night are the rule this year - and probably even next - as Memphis finally embraces the low and slow rebuild necessary for them to rise back up to the role of contender. Youth is being served, and that alongside an inexperienced coaching staff is going to add up to lots of mistakes...and lots of losses.

The ends will eventually justify the means. All you can ask is for competitive basketball and growth. It’s too early to properly analyze the latter, so for now we tip our cap to the former and grind forward.

On to some grades for last night’s loss.

Ja Morant: 28 minutes played, 23 points on 10-16 shooting, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, +12 +/-

Houston Rockets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The kid is electrifying.

Thankfully he did not leave Earth after this monstrous dunk attempt...

The minutes limit is going to become more annoying as time goes on, and there probably are better ways to go about it. For example - say your goal is for him to play at most 450 minutes a month, which would roughly equal that magical 30 minutes per game average. Ja is playing well, as he has throughout the season at home, and you want to really emphasize the competitive aspect of fighting to win through an entire game. Instead of taking out your best player with 9 minutes left in the 4th quarter to make sure he doesn’t play more than 30 minutes in a game (he came back a few minutes later), you let him run. Get 33-35 minutes a night. Let the kid eat.

Then, you sit him on a Friday night (say, this Friday night) in Orlando and play him full tilt against the Mavericks at home the next night.

Morant is going from Murray State to the NBA, and 30+ games to 82 in a season. It makes total sense to limit his time. But cutting off his competitive juices mid-game is like asking a starting pitcher to come in in relief with inherited runners in baseball - it’s not getting the most out of the routine of the talent.

The Grizzlies are overthinking this. Give the kid nights off. Start Tyus Jones, call up John Konchar, play DeAnthony Melton (which they should be doing any way once he’s full go post-injury). Don’t take him out when he’s cooking. I’d rather him play 68-70 games at full speed than 78-80 this way.


Dillon Brooks: 32 minutes played, 17 points on 7-18 shooting (0-7 from three), 9 rebounds, 2 steals, +8 +/-

Houston Rockets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Dillon Brooks is not a bad basketball player. In fact, he can be good...when he plays the “right way”.

Last night was not the night for that.

It’s not even the missed threes - everyone was awful from range last night (3-25, a staggeringly bad 12% from beyond the arc). Someone has to take them to provide some semblance of spacing, and Dillon is “in theory” as capable as anyone.

It’s the other shooting stat. The 18 attempts. The fact that he took 11 shots inside the arc.

He’s forcing it.

Maybe you’re thinking “who the hell else is supposed to take those shots”? And my response to that is...well...fair enough. A few more of those attempts could’ve gone to Ja or Brandon Clarke (4 shots in 20 minutes on a night where he didn’t commit a single foul is not acceptable on a variety of levels), but beyond that Dillon was going to take a solid amount of shots given the circumstances. That reality sets him up for failure, though. He is at his best when he plays within himself and in rhythm. He was not allowed to find that last night, and which he impacted the game in other ways (9 rebounds is big) offensively he simply was not good enough,


This team is still finding itself and is nowhere near a finished product...but they need to reevaluate how they’re treating the young players.

We’ve already addressed Ja. But Clarke’s line is even more egregious. The back injury has been a concern, but if he is cleared to play, he needs to play. Clarke had four blocks in 20 minutes of time. That seems pretty healthy, so if he can go, he can go. If not, sit him. Kyle Anderson is one of your best players. Jae Crowder and Bruno Caboclo can play the 4, and Caboclo played the 5 some in preseason. Go small when Jonas Valanciunas is out and rest Clarke, as his health should be a priority.

But this inbetween stuff is more likely to stunt growth than inspire it.

Two years from now, when Memphis surely hopes to be a playoff team again, Ja Morant isn’t going to be taken out with nine minutes left in 4th quarters. Brandon Clarke isn’t going to be on a strict minutes restriction with multiple blocks already on his stat sheet. Find better ways to limit time played than disrupting in-game rhythm, or risk missing out on valuable experience in these formative years for the sake of some arbitrary number that doesn’t take in to account such experience.


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